The Last Wonders of Bali: Gates of Heaven and Mount Batur

As they say, ‘save the best for the last’, and thus the two best places were saved for the last day of my Bali sojourn. Both the Gates of Heaven and Mount Batur were quite a distance from Kuta and I had to start off very early to have enough time to reach and explore these beauties.

Gates of Heaven 

The Lempuyang Temple nestled amidst the slopes of Mount Lempuyang in East Bali is probably the most photogenic place I have seen so far. Also called The Gates of Heaven, it does take a lot of determination, strength, sweat, and toil to overcome almost perpendicular roads, around 1700 steps and reach the height of 1175 m above sea level to knock on the Gates of Heaven, on Earth!  It takes skills to climb up to the temple from the mountain base where the Agung temple is situated; but there are facilities for car parking, local transport and shared transportation making life easier for tourists. The entry to the temple costs 20,000 Rupiah per person. Being a temple, it is also mandatory to wear a Sarong, cover the shoulders and tie back your hair.

The Temple is so named because it seems as if beyond the doors of the temple one would enter the portal to heaven. The altitude and sky-touching height give it an illusion that one is nestled between the clouds.  It makes for a very popular tourist destination in Bali and clicking a photograph here is a must.  There are also special photographers whom you can hire to take your photos. The film is developed and handed over instantly. But, mind the line it often amounts to hundreds waiting in the queue.

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Way to the Temple 
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Gates of Heaven

Mount Batur

Never did I ever think that while studying volcanoes in Geography I would be able to see one with my own eyes. What was instantly thrilling and scary at the same time was the fact that the Batur Volcano was an active one and the last eruption was not so long ago.  It takes almost 2 hours to reach Mount Batur from the Gates of Heaven. Bali in October can be really hot but Mount Batur’s ride uphill made up for it- it was freezing cold! Do carry warm clothes even if you visit during summer for you would need it.

The first documented eruption from Mount Batur took place is 1804 and then again in 2000. In September 2012, it was declared as a UNESCO Global Geoparks Network. It is interesting to note that there are settlements surrounding the volcano. I was not so daring as to visit the volcano from these villages but it was still a beautiful sight, seeing it from the mountain slopes. It almost resembled the mall roads of Indian hill-stations.

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Mount and Lake Batur 

Lake Batur

It is the volcanic Crater Lake formed due to the multiple eruptions in Mount Batur. The settlements around the Lake influence the agriculture and aquaculture of the region. It is also a source of several hot springs.

Batur Geopark Museum  

Previously called the Museum of Volcano Batur, it was renamed after Mount Batur was given a status among the UNESCO sites. It showcases the history of the region through dioramas. The entry fee for the museum is 20,000 Rupiahs. It is open Mon to Fri – 8 am to 4 pm, and Sat and Sun 8 am – 2 pm. If you are interested in Geography or Geology, then a visit to this museum is a must.

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Batur Geopark Museum 

Rice Fields

I had previously written to you about my experience visiting the Tegalalang Rice Fields. While that was a touristy experience; this was a rustic chanced sighting of the entire harvesting process. On my way to Kuta, I just happened to see numerous men and women working on the rice fields tending to it. The various different processes opened up in layers in front of me. What more, I could go closer and take photographs.

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Work in the fields 

Bali Foodgasm

Food in Bali varies to a great degree reflecting cosmopolitanism. You would find small shacks serving meatballs, soups, and rice with vegetables and meat; and you would also find pubs, restaurants, and branded cafes and hotel chains. I would personally recommend meatballs, sticky rice, and pork ribs. These three were my favorite. Another interesting find was flavors of drinks and snacks from known brands – Grape and Apple Fanta, SeaWeed Lays, etc. Of course in India, these are unheard of, probably because the market has not been very welcoming to them.

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To the best Food in Bali – Smoked Pork Ribs 

And with a planeload of memories and experiences, it was time to bid goodbye to this beautiful island. My departure coincided with Halloween and it was a wonder to see costume flash mob at the Bali airport. Young men and women were dressed up as witches, wizards, draculas, and widows to entertain the passengers. This time too it was Malindo Airlines with their perfect hospitality. A three-hour journey from Bali to Kuala Lumpur; and then another four hours to Kolkata- to home. It was almost past midnight when I landed in Kolkata- the streets were vacant and peaceful but in my head, numerous thoughts were buzzing about Bali, about the experience, about telling my close ones about the stay and of course, about writing it down on my blog!

That was all about my Bali Travels. I would soon be back with other travel stories. Due to the global crisis of the Novel Coronas Virus, it is an unsafe time to travel at the moment. In a country experiencing Lockdown, this is the time to think about self-improvement, spending time with family and pets, catching up on reading and some tips for self-sustainability. Till the situation is better, take care and do catch up on my book reviews from next week.

Bali: Up Close with Scenic Marvels, Thrilling Bridges and Shoppers Paradise

You bat an eyelid and days go by during vacations. After going on a whirlwind sightseeing spree in Ubud, it was time to explore places closer to Kuta and go down south. Breakfast was noodles as usual and before the clock struck 10 am, I was on the road. Though the number of destinations might be lesser than the day before but the travel time and the quality of the destinations made up for everything.

Bali Zoo:

It is the home of conservation, smart education, research, and recreational activities. With over 450 species of animals housed in the zoo, it is the perfect place for getting close with your favorite animals. The regular entry fee for an adult is approx. INR 356,500 Rupiah. This apart, there are several special packages which include special activities like ‘Breakfast with Orangutan’, ‘Night at the Zoo’, ‘Elephant Mud Fun’, animal presentations and birthday celebrations. Each package is differently priced and would have different inclusions like hotel transfer, zoo entrance, special activity and the like. The activities require pre-booking and are usually open from 6:30 am. For more information on the Bali zoo, you can check out their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

Tegenungan Waterfalls:

Waterfalls are truly a beauty. Adding another one to my list of sightseeing, The Tegenungan Waterfall which remains open every day from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm. The entrance to the same is 15,000 Rupiah for adults and 10,000 Rupiah for children. Should you not want to take a bath, do not worry. You can enjoy the scenic beauty, take a walk around the land; bathe, soak, swim; take great display photographs for your social media; try the waterfall swing or jump, and of course indulge in some local food and shopping.

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Tegenungan Waterfalls

Bali Bird Park:

If you love your feathery friends, then the Bali bird Park should garner a mandatory visit. Housing over 1000 birds of around 250 species, the park reflects the natural habitats of Indonesia, Latin America, Africa, Australia, and other places. To satisfy your hunger pangs there exists a restaurant and a café within the precincts. Informative documentaries and short films are screened in the 4D AC cinema hall. Special activities with birds can be pre-booked. The entrance fee for the park is 385,000 Rupiah for adults and 192,500 for children. For more information, you can visit their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

Bali Toll Road:

If anyone was to ask me about a near-death experience, I would probably say this toll bridge. It’s a scientific marvel and also scary for a first-timer traveling on the bridge surrounded by pristine waters around as far as your eyes can go, planes zooming right above your head and cars and bikes swooshing past as if you are in a race arena. If you love thrill and adventure, then the Bali Toll Bridge is a must for you. Built over the Gulf of Benoa this 12.7 km long bridge was opened by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in September 2013 and has been busily used since then by thousands of locals and tourists.

Garuda Wisnu Kencana:

The Garuda or the eagle is the national emblem of Indonesia signifying freedom from oppression. The 120 m height of the statue of Vishnu on Garuda makes it one of the tallest statues in the World. The structure has been designed by renowned Balinese artist Nyoman Nuarta. The park is situated on a hillock with the car parking area quite a distance away from the main statue. Car/bike parking costs 10,000 Rupiah while the entrance fee is 125,000 Rupiah. You can walk down the entire stretch or avail the timely bus services provided by the Park between 8 am to 9 pm daily. Vishnu and Garuda are two important mythological icons shared by Hindu-Balinese culture. Here, both adorn Gold Mosaic Crowns. More information about Garuda Wisnu Kencana can be found on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Website.

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Garuda Wisnu Kencana

Going on a Shopping spree:

Bali can be called Shopper’s Paradise.  You would find beautiful curios in the alleyways and shopping lanes of Kuta and also designer dresses, multi-cuisine restaurants and branded cafes and hotels in places like Ubud. Hereunder is a list of things that caught my eyes and some of them made it to my suitcase back home.

  • Colorful Dream catchers
  • Bali Fridge Magnets
  • Sleek and Chic Side Bags
  • Knitted Shrugs
  • Bali curios- Tshirts, Postcards, Caps, Bags, etc.
  • Last but not least local snacks.

bali shopping

It’s that time of the vacation when your heart starts pounding over the thought of having to leave it soon. With only a day left for me to spend, I wanted to spend it well and wisely.  If there was anything about volcanoes that I had read about in the geography books but could not practically see it before- I was about to witness the same. Also, did I mention it’s an active volcano?

More about it next week. . . . . . . .

Bali Day 4

Exploring Ubud: The Culture Hub of Bali

I completely do not agree with time when it zooms by during holidays. With a day gone I had only three more days to spend on this lovely island. Without wasting even a minute I set off for Ubud. Situated around 34 km North of Kuta, there are lots of attractions in and around Ubud which are a must-see during your visit.

Bali Swing:

One of the most popular attractions in the country is the Bali Swing. Though you would find a swing in almost every tourist spot, but this is the best! The Swings are of 10m/15m/20m/78m above the ground. They come in various shapes and sizes including Hanging Nests overlooking stunning views. Most people come with friends or families to sit and relax and take great photographs up in the air. The Bali Swing is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm and the entry charges come in packages 150,000 Rupiah onwards.

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Bali Swing

Campuhan Ridge Walk:

This 6 km Ridgewalk stretched over cobbled roads, water streams, lush fields, and thick foliage is ideal for trekkers. Campuhan translates to the convergence of two rivers. Along the walk, you would come across the Gunung Lebah, a temple at the site of the convergence. Should you be lucky you can also witness the holy ceremony of offerings being performed there. Since this is a trekking road, it is recommended you carry water bottles, boots, wear light but covered clothes, caps and the camera.

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Ridgewalk

Campuhan Waterfall:

Not sure when was the last time I witnessed a waterfall –up close. The Campuhan Waterfall is free-flowing, beautiful, picturesque and armed with of course a Bali Swing. There are special lockers to store your clothes should you be willing to take a dip. The entrance fee is 10,000 Rupiah per person.

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Waterfall

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary:

This isn’t my first tryst with monkeys, but definitely the first with well-behaved ones. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a place that speaks of economy, religion, education, and conservation. With over 700 monkeys and 186 species of biodiversity; the sanctuary welcomes people every day of the week from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm. The entrance fee for adults is 80,000 Rupiah and children, 60,000 Rupiah. It runs on the philosophy of ‘Tri Hita Karana’ or happiness among three parties- humans and humans; humans and environment; and humans with the Supreme God. The conservatory holds three temples- Pura Dalem Agung, Pura Beji and Pura Prajapati. Sharing a quick tip, should you want to save money on entrance fee just ride past the sanctuary on a bike and you’ll almost every time spot monkeys crossing the road.

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Spot the Monkeys!

Goh Gajah (temple):

The Goh Gajah Temple or the Elephant Caves were a 9th-century marvel. This elephant sanctuary depicts Hindu-Buddhist faith motifs throughout the temple structures. The entrance to the temple complex is uniquely marked by seven statues of ladies holding water pitchers. It is said that these ladies depict the seven important rivers of India- Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Godavari, Sindhu, Kaveri and Narmada. The Temple is a site of archaeological interest as it was re-discovered by Dutch archaeologists in 1923 and the bathing pool was unearthed in 1954. Wearing a Sarong is a must in the temple. Although it is available for hire, but remember I got my own. The entrance fee for the temple is 10,000 Rupiah.

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Main Temple Entrance
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Bathing Pool

Tegalalang Rice Terrace/ Bali Rice Terrace: rice Fields:

If you are looking to spend time amidst a picturesque location, swing on the relaxing Swings, walk along the rice-fields during sunrise/ sunset or shop and eat overlooking rice fields, this is the place for you. With an entrance fee of 20,000 Rupiah per person and a parking fee of 5,000 Rupiah, the fields make for a perfect destination for lovebirds and nature lovers. It is open every day from 7 am till sunset for the visitors.

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Rice Fields

Tirta Empul:

This Hindu-Balinese water temple comprises the main temple, holy spring, and the petirtaan or the bathing structure used for ritualistic purification. It is where the people come for ritual purification. I was lucky enough to witness the same. From children on their mother’s laps to the old, everyone took a dip in the waters of this holy spring. Built around 962 AD during the Warmadewa dynasty, the temple is dedicated to Vishnu. A hill overlooking this temple houses a villa built for President Sukarno’s visit in 1954, which now hosts important state dignitaries.

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Main Temple complex
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Holy Spring
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Ritual Purification at petirtaan or bathing pool

Ubud Palace:

Built during the 1800s by Late Ida Tjorkorda Putu Kandel, the Ubud Palace is the house of the rulers of Ubud. It boasts of intricate Balinese architecture complete with a beautifully pruned garden. Today, it is the cultural hub of the city and hosts various cultural shows. Entry to the Ubud Palace is free and open to all from 9 am to 6 pm every day. However, the various cultural shows might require an entry fee and this can be enquired at the entrance.

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Inside Ubud Palace

Ubud Writers Festival:

Unfortunately, I was one day too late. Nevertheless, I would be happy if someday I could return to the Festival. Started in 2004, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is one of the most celebrated literary festivals. Conceptualized as a healing project after the 2002 Bali Bomb blasts, the themes of the festival are drawn from the Hindu-Balinese philosophy. In 2020, the Festival is scheduled from 28 Oct- 1 Nov and the theme is Mulat Sarira or self-reflection.  More information about the Festival is available on Twitter, Instagram, and Website.

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A Glimpse of the hoarding for 2019 edition

Despite traveling for almost 70 km and more there were still many unexplored areas. My third day in Bali was close to Nature, Culture and the Roads! Leaving some glimpses behind.

Bali Day 3

Bali: The Land of Temples and Beaches

A new day refilled me with the zeal to explore this beautiful city and the best way to do it was to go for a walk, just to familiarise myself with the surroundings.  I noticed how despite having a robust nightlife, the city woke up early and completed the Morning Prayer rituals. On the doorstep of each building, you would find prayer offerings for good luck.

The Essentials in Bali:

Right outside Sekhar Bali homestay, you would find many eateries and restaurants offering breakfast.  But if you are on a budget trip then entering the INDOMARET/ MINIMART or ALPHAMART would be the right thing to do. You would get a variety of food in each of these stores (The prices may differ) – fruit cups, muesli, cup noodles – things that cause less hassle. It is recommended to stock up your inventory, should you be staying in Bali for a few days.

My next aim was to find a cheap and sustaining SIM Card. Since I was traveling internationally, it was cheaper to buy a Balinese SIM than pay the huge roaming charges deducted by my local SIM back in India. You get a number of SIM cards but I chose to opt for simPATI. A SIM card would cost around 20,000 -30,000 Rupiah. Some stores might ask for more and it is up to you to settle for a higher price or negotiate.

For traveling at ease one would require personal transport.  Bikes can be hired at 60,000-75,000 Rupiah per day (a little negotiation is required here!). There are options for hiring cabs from hotels/ resorts for sightseeing or you can opt for package sightseeing tours. All these options would depend on how much are you willing to spend.

Another MUST HAVE is a Sarong. It is a traditional lower body garment that needs to be worn by men and women when entering temples. Though all temples and religious sites have the provision of lending Sarongs to the tourists; but I chose to buy one- more as a memory. They come in different price ranges but mine cost 30,000 Rupiah.

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Colorful Sarongs for Sale 

With a ready backpack full of tour essentials – dry food, water bottle, Sarong, SIM, mobile charger, Purse, Cap/ Straw Hat, and medicines, I set off on my Bali tour.

Tanah Lot – The Land in the Sea:

Located around 30 km from Denpasar, Tanah Lot literally translates to Land in the Sea since during high tide; the temple seems to be floating on water. The area is surrounded by many Caves thought to have been created by Sea Snakes. Tourists are not to disturb the caves or the snakes (if spotted). Legend has it that the temple was built in the erstwhile village of Beraban in around 15th-16th century to honor the teachings of Dang Hyang Dwijendra by his disciples from the village. The original inhabitants of Beraban believed in monotheism until touched by the teachings of Dwijendra. The Temple Festival takes place every 210 days according to the Balinese Calendar.

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Tanah Lot Temple
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Walking across the Caves 

Since I happened to visit during low tide, I could walk around the place. It is advised to wear sneakers or sturdy shoes as the land is quite muddy and slippery. However, being situated right beside the sea, it has a great view which is utilized by every tourist by taking numerous photographs. The land around the temple has been developed for tourists and now hosts numerous eateries and souvenir shops.

Nusa Dua Beach:

My lunch consisted of one of the finest meatballs and fruit ice tea I had ever tasted and all under 20,000 Rupiah!  My next destination was the Nusa Dua Beach meaning ‘two islands’. Nusa Dua was developed as a tourist destination since the 1970s. The beautiful beach often becomes the hotspot for day trips as numerous eateries, water sports and resorts have developed nearby to provide all the amenities to the tourists. Should you be lucky you can also find a shell or two – like I did.

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People at Play 

Kuta Beach:

It was nearing sunset and I decided to head back near the homestay and explore the Kuta or the Sunset Beach. Formerly a fishing village, Kuta is now a developed tourist destination as it accommodates budget travelers and is near to the airport. Kuta is a bathing beach and visitors are allowed to have a gala time till around 5/6 pm. Souvenirs and drinks are also available on the beach; however, to keep it clean, food is not! But not to worry, cross the road and you would find some of the biggest food brands and shopping pavilions to indulge yourself in.

Bali War Memorial:

My last stop before I retired for the day was the Bali War Memorial. Back in October 2002, the city was a victim of terrible bombings which saw almost 200 deaths. The victims were of different nationalities and to pay homage to those who lost their lives, the Bali War Memorial was built on the site of Paddy’s Pub, one of the sights of the bombings; on the second anniversary of the bombings in 2004.  The Memorial consists of a large plaque made of marble with the names and nationalities of the victims written on them.  The monument also has the flags of all the nationalities who lost their lives. The Kuta Karnival is a ceremony and celebration held in October to honor the lives of the deceased. Over time, the activity became a major tourist attraction and a PR-able event. During the Karnival most pubs and the Kuta beach have various activities; water sports competitions and something for everyone. It embraces and celebrates peaceful diversity.

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Bali War Memorial 

I ended my day happy and satisfied with the sightseeing so far. But was also excited for all the mesmerizing sights I would see the next day. I leave you all the glimpses of some of them.

More coming up next week. . . . . . .

bali_2

Setting out on an adventure to Bali

My travels have mostly taken me to the West – in terms of residence or academics- but I got my first opportunity to travel to the East rather South East when Bali came to be on my travel charts. The Island of Bali, in Indonesia, reverberates scenes of romantic holidays in the first go, but it is much more than that. During my initial research, I found almost all kinds of geographical landscapes (except deserts) to be present in Bali. From pristine beaches to freezing volcano; from mesmerizing waterfalls to trekking ridges – you name a place and it is there! Being an international destination, and one which cannot be visited very often (call it time restraints or financial), it needs good research and planning before actually laying foot on this scenic terrain.

Research Essentials:

  • Dates
  • Flight options
  • Visa Formalities
  • To check the Weather and pack your luggage accordingly (Cannot be 100% accurate but we can always go with an idea)
  • Hotels/ homestays booking
  • Exchange rates and convert some INR to Indonesian Rupiah
  • International SIM cards
  • In-land transport options
  • A bucket list of places you really want to visit, their timings, entrance fee etc.
  • To check the local Traditions and Rituals and dress code if any
  • To make a list of Emergency Contact Numbers (including embassy etc.)

Planning your visit:

With a hectic work schedule in events, I hardly get time for holidaying around. But October being a festive month with a large number of holidays was my chance to sneak away to a much-needed vacation. Settling for 25th – 31st October 2019, the next immediate step was to scout for budget flight options. For this, Malindo Air was chosen. We had a 12-hour halt in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur International airport before catching the connecting flight to Denpasar, Bali. The best part was since it was only a journey of 6 days; I did not require a Visa with an Indian Passport. Clearing immigration was enough.

Malindo Plane

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia commons

Accommodation and In-Land Transportation:

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Sekhar Bali Homestay

The weather in Bali during October would be hot and dry during the day but cool during the night. Surrounded by water bodies on all sides gives Bali a pleasant climate throughout the year.  This was a complete budget trip; the best in the lowest was my motto. After checking many options which at one-time included a villa I opted for Sekhar Bali Homestay, in downtown Kuta. Kuta is the most happening place in Bali, two-minutes from the beaches and the most envious nightlife you could ever imagine. The best exchange rate was from Dollar to Indonesian Rupiah and hence I converted the INR to USD to IR. Exchange Rates differ and it is best to check right before you are planning the trip so that you can get the best returns.  Like every place you have the options of hiring cabs and taxis- Grab and Blue Bird; but what most individuals prefer is to hire a bike that is available from 60,000 IR to 75,000 IR a day (oil on the individual).

Making a Bucket List:

Bali is a country to be geographically lauded for. From rice fields to forests; to palaces to islands; from volcanoes to museums; to beaches and waterfalls to temples – such diverse scenic landscapes to see everywhere. I jotted down quite a few places to visit but then not everything was physically possible nevertheless I have seen at least one tourist place from every category- from the famous Bali Swing to Ubud Palace; from Kuta Beach to traveling on the toll bridge; from Goh Gajah Temple to Monkey Park. Bali is a country steeped in rituals and hence in all religious places women are expected to cover their bodies and wear a Sarong.

Setting out on an adventure:

The common notion is that an adventure begins when you reach your destination; I believe the real adventure is during the planning phase, it just culminates when you reach your destination. Thus on a rain-washed evening, I set out with my back-pack to the Kolkata airport to catch a flight to this unknown destination. International flights are often scheduled in the evenings to post-midnight- a trend which I have generally seen. My flight was at 12:05 IST with Malindo Air. This was my first time with them and they were truly hospitable. In fact, they upgraded my seat to a Window seat with more leg space and a fine view. What More, they even added a meal to it!  The first leg of my 4 hours journey from Kolkata to Malaysia was smooth and without any turbulence. I reached Malaysia at around 8 in the morning (remember time zones change). Since I did not have a transit visa I had to wait for the connecting flight at the airport.

Malaysia Truly Asia to Bali:

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Model Planes at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 

Kuala Lumpur International airport like most international airports is cosmopolitan. With branded shopping arcade to clean toilets and huge waiting areas, especially for transit passengers – the airport provided all facilities to the visitors. After almost a 12-hour wait and several cuppa noodles later I caught the connecting flight – again a Malindo Air – to Denpasar.

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Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar

A three-hour journey later I reached Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar well past midnight. The view from the window was beautiful- twinkling lights and risings waves in the high tide! Of course, it was too dark to see anything properly but I did have the next four days to explore. After clearing the immigration and booking a Grab through the Free WIFI at the airport I reached Sekhar Bali homestay – my home for the next five nights. It was indeed a long journey and it was best to sleep it off to reenergize for a new day where many adventures await.

Lastly, I give glimpses of my travels ahead but would talk about them in greater detail in the subsequent blog posts.

 

Calcutta Nights: Hemendra Kumar Roy translated by Rajat Chaudhuri

Calcutta is beautiful. Wherever you place a camera, you get a vision. – Pradeep Sarkar

While Kolkata has long transformed into the city of Coloured stills; one cannot dismiss that Calcutta Nights still has a large part of it residing in the Black and White era of the past. Written originally by Hemendra Kumar Roy under the pseudonym of Meghnad Gupta, and translated by Rajat Chaudhuri decades later, Calcutta Nights explores the dark underbelly of the city which existed time immemorial untouched by the development of the society. ‘From Chitpur bordellos to Chinese opium dens, the darkest secrets of the city of palaces’ have been exposed by the writer-translator.

From the lives of prostitutes to the trafficking rackets as depicted by modern-day Crime Shows all find a mention in the pages of the book. It is interesting to note that the book was written way back in 1923, however, incidents, instances, and mindsets of the people have hardly changed from back then. Women have been acutely objectified with the use of words like ‘dish’, ‘merchandise’, ‘goods’  with a recurring usage of the phrase ‘fallen women’ to denote sex-workers. Standing on the other side of the journey many have accepted this profession as fate, many rebel day and night to leave the web of sexual abuse, and many enter willingly and have a zeal to thrive. But most often than not ‘Her laughter is the veil for sorrow’.

Chinatown today is quite well-known for Chinese restaurants, Chinese New Year celebrations, Dragon Dance, Chinese Temples; but do people remember the once-thriving opium dens of the Chinese neighbourhood -an addiction bred by many gentlemen to relieve themselves of their burdens through opium and more.

The narrative takes the readers through the Nimtala Ghats, the famous burial grounds in the city known for its sacredness and ritualistic importance. But do the residents of the ghats acknowledge it thus? Or is it a monotonous job that they have long stopped to care about except smiling profusely and telling the history of the place to tourists to earn a few extra notes?  These and much more seemingly ‘normal’ and ‘historic’ places are dwelling houses of the sins. Stories and instances narrated by the author tell the readers how intriguing the underbelly of the city actually is and how this whole new world has been created by the people of the city themselves – or rather their desires!

A chapter on the playhouses – theatre- of Calcutta truly illustrates how theatres played with the emotions of the people. Whether it be the start of an illicit affair; or keeping a mistress; whether it be a man or a woman running away with the actors; or starting a lustful relation; these became the natural backstage nuances at a playhouse. Remember Tagore’s Manbhanjan? Not everything is fiction!

Calcutta Nights takes the readers on a journey through the seasons, the festivities, the social hierarchy, and the economic classes keeping in mind always the psyche of the situation or the person in question. The description of every chapter is like a scene unfolding in front of one’s eyes; similar to the old photographs/hand-drawn scenes one sees in a museum. From the baijis singing in the goondas den to the silent sneaking away of preys to a dark corner on a moonless night; to the loud glamour of the deprived to find a prey and earn a penny, to the unraised brows of the workers on seeing women in places of significance, alone and searching . . . . . . . Calcutta Nights is a collection and depiction of the emotions of the night. But what was written decades ago holds true for society even today. The narrow lanes of the sex-workers’ gully or the plush hotels outside which one would find ladies waiting till midnight; the modern Babus in suits visiting opium dens or ghats to relieve their stress; the entwined web of  willingness, unwillingness, fate and above all the emerging crime from the darkest nights of all times.  . . . . . the story of Calcutta Nights that is here to remain . . . . . . .

Publisher: Paper Missile, Niyogi Books

No. of pages: 131

Available on: Flipkart/ Amazon 

 

The Sinners by Sourabh Mukherjee

If you are looking for a mirror that shows the real face of corporate giants with hidden agendas, thirst for power, frenemies and ruthless market competition; the sinners is just the book for you. A fast-paced unputdownable thriller, yet again, by Sourabh Mukherjee, will keep you glued to the pages of the book.

Rewinding and unwinding

The story is narrated as a flashback and is presented as a series of mysteriously related events which ultimately ends with the climax. Mukherjee, from the very beginning, lays bare the signs of sins in the personality traits of all the major characters. What is interesting is that these characters are very relatable and almost always around us. One just needs to unmask the worldly masks to find the Sinners. The novel presents an array of intriguing characters from the biggest tech giant of the day-NexGen- a company that is the perfect example of the journey of a start-up to a corporate. Every character is nothing but a pawn in the hands of the mastermind. But truly, they are nothing by slaves of their own sins, their own weaknesses – traits that are terrible and compel them to turn into silent observers as their fate comes crashing down in front of them.

Unmasking the Sins

Whether it be a woman who has lost her love, or a man fighting to rise up in the corporate ladder, a jealous ex, a miffed wife, an over-confident player, an underestimated techie, a beautiful slayer; Mukherjee makes it a point to incorporate all. What is interesting is that not a single character is pure black or white. Every personality has traits of grey so much so that some exhibit multiple sins. In fact, it was as if, the author had personified the seven sins- Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, and Sloth- through the illustrious characters of the book.  This is what makes the book special as no person is devoid of sin and gives way to their basic instincts, as every human being tends to do.

The Game called Corporate

Another very interesting aspect that Mukherjee puts across through his writings is the corporate environment. With the big businesses having almost reached their saturation point, it is the era of the start-up revolution. Nowadays, start-ups are a favorite with the media; and when they become successful and get praised by the society, not only the brand but also its top employees get trapped under the radar of media. As is said that a company is made by the employees, hence the higher the position the lonelier and competitive it gets among the subordinates and peers. One can trust absolutely no one. Even friends become enemies, not mentioning the actual enemies that one creates along the way. One is often forced to resort to ways that might otherwise seem ‘immoral’ and ‘betraying’, but these form part of the survival tactics. This corporate scenario is beautifully penned down in the pages of the book. A closer look at the storyline will surely make the reader understand how the foundation of the entire narration is formed keeping in mind the competitive corporate structure coupled with the complex basic human instincts and relationships.

Set against a highly relatable, realistic and practical backdrop, the sinners is a highly recommended book for anyone who likes to read contemporary thrillers!

No. of Pages: 191

Publisher: Srishti Publishers

Rating: 3.95/5

Available at: Amazon/ Flipkart

Tape: Steven Camden

Steven Camden’s Tape is a narration between time.  A daughter rummages through her mother’s room and chances upon a completely different side of her parents that was yet unknown to her.  The story follows Ameliah and how she discovers the untold love story of her parents. Traveling back to an era gone by, understanding her parents much more than she ever could; Ameliah learns how she came to being all through the narrations of a Tape. It is often said that sometimes even though the loved ones perish, their memories reside forever. Camden makes sure to freeze memories in a Tape in order to drive ahead the storyline.  The story was published some five-six years ago, and in all honesty that an author could so beautifully play with an object deemed to be obsolete in the modern world is commendable.

Child Psychology at Play

Camden is quite successful in capturing the essence of child psychology. No matter which decade or era we talk about, the thought process of a child remains significant. While Ameliah tries her level best to dig out information about her parents from an unknown friend of her fathers’ who suddenly rings her doorbell one fine day; she is also often seen keeping herself in her mother’s shoes with respect to the choice of songs, playing the guitar and through many habitual similarities. This only suggests that she is frequently reminded of her mother with whom she could spend only very little time. Quite similarly the voice on the Tape is torn between the records he made for his lost mother and a final parting gift he wants to make for his beloved. Entering the teen years throws a child into a vortex of emotions and feelings that he/she had been thus unaware of, and this vortex is further aggravated by relationships.

The Web called Relationship

Much that one thinks it’s easier for a child to adjust to newer situations than an adult, it is often forgotten that a child’s mind and heart are more delicate than that of an adult’s. It is difficult to imbibe shocks as a child than it is to do the same when one is older. The author brings Ameliah and the voice on the Tape a notch closer through the shared bonding over personal loss.  While Ameliah loses her parents and moves in with her grandmother, the voice upon the loss of his mother has to adjust to a step-mum and step-brother. For a child it is difficult to give the place of a parent to a new individual, not counting the step-sibling rivalry which automatically falls into place. Camden plays with relationships through many layers in the story.  It is interesting to note that every individual has grey areas instead of complete black and white.

The Emotion-Coaster Ride

Tape is an emotionally draining story. What might seem like a straight forward narration of a story through a time portal, manages to take every reader on an emotional roller coaster ride. Uncovering one’s past is not easy and sometimes one ends up questioning and judging the actions of the people. Whether it is Ameliah, her grand-mother, the voice, all have a past and an emotional aim in life. But what is interesting is the final twist in the tale which defies all rationale of love and brotherhood and raises an underestimated character to one of the most respectful of all.

A Story conjured in an Alternate Reality

 Tape is nothing short of fairy tale love story conjured in an alternate reality. Reading the complete story is bound to spring mixed responses. While some might discard the entire concept as illogical, some might grace it with an understanding that the novel is a work of fiction. But nevertheless, if the pages of a book fail to instill in me an alternate reality with experiences and situations which are usually unheard of but might have a 1% probability of occurring in the universe; the book is a winner already!

Publisher:  Harper Collins UK

No. of Pages: 363

Available at: Amazon/ Flipkart

Rating: 3.5/5

In Search of the Forgotten Fort- Sisupalgarh

Orissa! Odisha! Bhubaneswar! Kalinga! No matter by which name you call the city, all names flash a vivid image of a land steeped in heritage and culture; a land that has played pivotal roles in Indian History;  a land which was the focal point of a battle, which mentally coerced a King to accept the path of Buddhism. Bhubaneswar, ‘The Temple City’ is one of the oldest cities of India and around 8 km from the main city lies the ruins of the once flourishing kingdom of Sisupalgarh.

Scouting for the ruins

It was during my first trip to Bhubaneswar (work not leisure!) that I could visit Sisupalgarh with a colleague and popular travel blogger Indian Vagabond. Just the brief of the place housing ruins of an old kingdom got me interested to visit it. Honestly, at first sight any visitor would be disappointed with a place surrounded by thick foliage, in the middle of nowhere and what seems like a place for merrymaking! The encroachment of modern houses within the land has almost made it impossible to locate the ancient ruins and its structures. But, after scouting the area and asking people, Google Maps, (and a dog!) the ancient ruins were located.

This is where we should rewind to find out about the place which stands so neglected and decadent today!

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The path towards Sisupalgarh
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Once a mighty kingdom . . . . .

Going back in Time

Sisupalgarh is nationally protected under the Archaeological Survey of India. Several excavations have taken place within the space which helped trace its plausible history. In 1948, Archaeologist B.B Lal analyzed that the defensive fort existed around 4th-3rd Century BCE. The most recent excavations by M.L Smith and Prof RK Mohanty date it from 5th Century BCE to well past 4th Century BCE. Apart from excavations, the kingdom might have a reference in the inscriptions of the Hathigumpha Caves in Udaygiri which mentions a certain Kalinganagri; and The Asokan edicts which refer to certain Tosali. It can thus be concluded that Sisupalgarh was a flourishing kingdom even prior to the establishment of the Mauryan Empire.

Maybe Harappa wasn’t the only one. . . .

A must-have chapter in all history books is that of the Harappan Civilisation. But the more I find out about this ancient fortress, the more I realize how much India has to offer to its people outside the pages of the books.

From the multiple excavations conducted in and around the area, several conclusions were drawn. The fortified area was a perfect square surrounded by a defensive water moat complete with earthen and brick walls built a few centuries later. It is suggested that the population would have been around 20000-30000 – more than that of Athens! Further, since temporary settlements were discovered near the gates of the fortress, it could have been that traders and businessmen who were not allowed inside the fortress built themselves a temporary shelter. Due to the lack of disastrous natural/man-made calamity, it has been analyzed that the inhabitants chose to migrate towards ‘The Temple City’; however, the exact reason for the shift is yet not known.

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Counting the steps of time
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Tales hidden under the foliage
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The fields leading to India’s Stonehenge?

Wanderings of the Mind

India is a country rich in history. With the help of analytical minds and technology, the past can be discovered and analyzed. However, these are the only recreation of the past and cannot be predicted to be one hundred percent accurate. In fact, I hope in days to come more would be unearthed about the fort and it would be given its righteous place in the pages of history.

Behind the Scenes

Sisupalgarh is located in the Khurda district on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. It is well connected by Uber and even local transport. Ideally, it is best to visit during the winter as the scorching sun would not peel your skin away. It is always advisable to wear lots of sunscreen and wear comfortable shoes, if possible sneakers, for you might have to do some scouting for the place. The stone pillar of the fort can be reached after meandering your path through a water-filled rice field (Beware of Snakes!). It is suggested you look where you are going because the area is damp, swampy and wet (and no one wants to fall and break some bones right!)

Sisupalgarh is definitely an offbeat place to visit. If you have a knack for heritage and history then this is the place for you to be. For me, this was my first and only sightseeing in the city of Bhubaneswar. I hope to go back soon someday and visit all the places I have missed out on.

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Only time will tell. . . . the stories those pillars hide

An Unrestored Woman by Shobha Rao

A collection of a dozen short stories An Unrestored Woman, speaks of the sentiments of women caught under the web of various conspiracies hatched by fate, at the juncture of the most crucial political decision undivided India was ever subjected to – The Partition. These stories are spread over a timeline ranging from during British Raj to during partition and post-partition. The time span also highlights the development of people – intellectually and emotionally-to combat adverse situations. It is interesting that throughout the narrative each of the twelve stories is connected through a location, a character or an object.

Crushed Hopes of Belonging

What maintains continuity throughout all stories is the focal point of Partition. A phenomenon that not only created two new states by mapping lines but also drew permanent lines in the hearts of people with one unanswered question- ‘Where does one truly belong?’ Partition became a personification of homelessness. The tales of injustice and social stigma revolving around refugee camps would need another post to talk about. However, it was not easy for the people to move beyond borders in the light of communal differences that followed neither was it possible for many to live in the environment that they had known to be home for ages. This resulted in thousands of people dying with crushed hopes of belonging ‘somewhere’. The same resulted in the loss of friends and families – some of whom who could never make it to the destination and many who united after decades with their loved ones.

Throughout the aftermath of Partition, innocent souls suffered the most seeing, what was their home, turn hostile against them in a matter of seconds. Many died unwanted deaths and in the hope of being able to call themselves a citizen of a country. An Unrestored Woman upholds this inner turmoil through the stories, where the characters face situations, where they have to let go of everything and everyone they could once describe as home in search of ‘the other’ – some reaching their destinations while others losing themselves in the journey.

Game of Conscience

We often tend to act in a manner that is guided by our conscience; which in turn is shaped by our preconceived notions and beliefs. In ‘An Unrestored Woman’ every character primary or secondary acts with a strong sense of conscience upholding their own biases and prejudices, which develops the personality of the character in the long run. The author has touched every possible aspect of emotion throughout the book. The protagonists are guided by vengeance, sense of duty, strong will power, stoicism and much more. What needs to be kept in mind is that their conscience and the way they react to situations thereafter have been formed after being subjected to immense pain, struggle and emotional turmoil. Hence, their actions need to be perceived neutrally by the reader instead of judging them.

What’s in the  Name? – An Unrestored Woman

”In 1949, India legislated the return of these women with the Abducted Persons (Recovery and Restoration) Act. Though the commonly used term for these women is recovered women, I have chosen to refer to them as restored. The distinction may seem trivial, but it is necessary, for I believe that while the recovery of a person is possible, the restoration of a human being to her original state is not.”

The author justifies the name of the book through these lines. The women protagonists in the stories may have all continued to live their lives at the end but the lives that they lived were not the same as before. Haunted by the loss of relations, home and a life that they once knew, these unrestored women would fight for survival with courage and hope till their very last breath.

An Unrestored Woman is an assemblage of tales of remarkable decisions made by women in order to survive in a world full of vice and angst. It only portrays how powerful women can be when needed and that their silence should never be taken for granted.

Publisher: Hachette

No. of Pages: 244

Rating: 3.5/5

Available at: Flipkart/ Amazon